>just a piece of meat by frontier danceland

>reviewed by sherrie lee

>date: 1 sep 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the drama centre
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


JUST A PIECE OF MEAT is an experiment between a choreographer and a visual artist. The mix of artistic media, which went all the way to the combination of dancers (five lithe ladies) and actors (two guys and a girl), resulted in a lopsided affair - the genius of Low Mei Yoke's choreography was muted while Nick Ng's provocative use of tableaux, video and sound collages made MEAT an invigorating evening at the theatre. There were, however, moments where dance and visual art came together so well that it was impossible to separate the two. As for the argument of Meat and how the piece explored the process of rotting, it was too much of a stretch. Not to say that it didn't explore anything. MEAT certainly explored the consciousness of the non-thinking depoliticised Singaporean very well, just not to the extent of 'rotting'.

The opening market sounds (of stallholders selling meat?!) awoke a pair of sleepyheads on the scaffolding across the back of the stage. Three large and deep woks dotted the centre of the stage while two stayed put on the ground in front of the stage. After urban man and urban woman went through the process of waking and nodding off, a bunch of young punks in club gear hopped onto the scene, headphones and all.

Somehow, underneath the weight of making art accessible, dance became all too obvious in the parts where disco bobbing, trance-induced jiggles and MTV slickness never seemed to end. It got unbearable when Princess Britney spluttered her guts out in a dance remix of 'Oops, I Did It Again'.

>>'Disco bobbing, trance-induced jiggles and MTV slickness never seemed to end... Princess Britney spluttered her guts out in a dance remix of "Oops, I Did It Again".'

But in between the obvious re-telling of the MTV generation and numbed urbanites, there was a scene which bore testament to a true collaborative spirit of dance and visual art. The disco bunnies cleared the stage for three dancers to interact with the woks with bodily arches, angles and accuracy. The dancer with long hair used her tresses to sweep against the base of the wok and the red beans that were in it. The intermingling of sounds of the red beans against the woks and the dynamic movements of the dancers proved to be mesmerising and evocative, a much needed indulgence away from didactic theatre.

Soon to follow was the publicity shot coming to live as the undies-clad performers wrapped in plastic hobbled onto the stage, reacting to the soundscape of static and LP scratches. I suppose one was to derive from the wrapped up performers that Humans = Meat or it was flesh becoming meat, etc. but meat didn't really come to my mind … I saw the half naked bodies for what they were and watched them, after breaking free from their plastic wrap, alternating between trance dancing and breaking out in tortured spasms each time the static soundscape intruded. It felt like a scene from 'Clockwork Orange' - being cooped up and conditioned, then released into the "real" world but being controlled by the same sounds used during the conditioning. Beethoven or bad scratching, the message of subconscious control was loud and clear.

Projected pictures of friends enjoying themselves at parties came on, paving the way for Nick Ng's characteristic collage, for MEAT anyway. An actor breaks the scene, walking diagonally across the stage with a tray in his hands. And guess what was on the tray - pieces of meat on a plate complete with fork and knife! As he sat down in a corner to chew his way through the meat, the voice of a teacher articulating remarks about his student (I forget the name) is broadcast, conjuring images of an anal school teacher as we hear how so and so was a good student but who could still excel even more in his studies. The repeated drone was painful because it sounded too familiar. This was one memory of school I did not relish.

We were again treated to more of Nick Ng's collage, this time of the Shenton Way / Raffles Place scenes which were by now a little trite (Yes, I get it - we are all living in an urban world!). Dance returned to the foreground with an interlude in all senses of the word. The two male actors (and the only male performers) and two female dancers took part in a recognisably contemporary dancey sequence for two couples. The men were the support while the ladies showed off their lines and curves, especially in curling horizontally around their partners. The accompanying new age guitar track was out of sync with the whole urban creation. But despite it coming in out of nowhere, in this pure dance scene (maybe not so pure who two actors involved), it was an opportunity to enjoy the movement for movement's sake.

The ongoing argument of meat and all that it represents, of course, would not stay away and came back in the most memorable scene. Seven performers formed a line at a corner while the female actor was on the scaffolding doing whatever she was doing, putting on lipstick I think - I couldn't really see what she was doing since the line of seven blocked my view - but I didn't really care; those seven were getting all of my attention. As people sang, or rather, warbled Singapore songs in the background, the seven clad in their nightgowns and pyjamas swayed left and right, did the Singapore/Kallang wave in slo-mo, mouthed the words to the pledge and - the funniest bit of all - broke out in mock sweat to the aerobic moves of the Singapore Workout.

The rest of MEAT was unfortunately more club/pub/disco and urban/city scenes/projections. The woks made their presence felt, for the second and final time, with the beans inside creating a rhythm. The last scene had the dancers climb onto a smaller scaffolding to do more dumb numbed dancing and at the end, urban man in his pyjamas comes on up to do his sad sad boogie.

Putting aside the over-done club and city presentations, the sometimes too-familiar music, and the dancing that never really integrated with the drama, MEAT was not a bad experiment after all.

We don't need Hossan Leong to tell us how Singaporean we are. MEAT did it - and challenged that.